LAC LA BICHE - According to Alberta Health, the Lac La Biche region has its first confirmed COVID-19 case since the pandemic began five months ago.
While the area identified as "Lac La Biche County" on the provincial government's interactive COVID-19 map was reporting zero active cases on Wednesday night, the map shows yellow shading, associated with confirmed cases, in both the hamlets of Lac La Biche and Plamondon. The map identifies both areas as "Lac La Biche" and shows one confirmed case.
Specifics on the confirmed case in the Lac La Biche area cannot be addressed by Alberta Health officials.
"We cannot comment on any specific case due to patient confidentiality," Alberta Health's spokesperson Tom McMillan told the POST on Wednesday evening, when asked for a more specific location or details on the case. "If there is an outbreak or risk to the public, we will report it publicly, as per our established processes."
McMillan said family or any immediate contacts of the affected person will have been notified by Alberta Health Services officials, and prevention measures are implemented right away.
"In all cases, AHS immediately takes action. Health officials conduct contact tracing and anyone at risk of exposure is contacted, isolated and tested," he said. "Depending on the situation, Health officials may also work with employers and, if appropriate, provide assistance around cleaning, testing, or other support needed to protect the public health."
McMillan says the best advice for community members continues to be the standard precautions.
"The best way to protect yourself is to physically distance, stay home if sick, wash your hands, and follow all the other public health guidance available," he said.
Lac La Biche County councillor and full-time advanced care paramedic Jason Stedman believes that message will resonate further now that the community has a confirmed case.
"I think this will make people be a little more aware. It's a little closer to home now," said Stedman, admitting that he was not on shift Wednesday, and had only heard reports of the local case, but hadn't confirmed it in a medical capacity.
Having an active case, however, is something medical professionals have been preparing for since the onset of the pandemic.
"We've all been treating it as if it was here already," Stedman said told the POST, explaining that all patients brought into the hospital on an ambulance have been wearing face masks and any patient who has shown symptoms associated with the coronavirus have triggered protocols in the hospital for full protective gowns and N95 masks. The hospital in Lac La Biche has also initiated a screening station at the front doors, testing every person coming into the building and providing them with a disposable mask.
"I guess, it was inevitable. We knew this was coming and we are prepared. On the ambulance and in the hospital we knew that when 'Case One' happened, it wouldn't be spread around from us." Stedman said.
That level of diligence and awareness needs to continue through the community, said Stedman, reminding residents to continue with protocols like frequent hand-washing, physical distancing and self-isolating if symptoms arise.
When asked about the use of masks, he feels the first case might push more people to wear them.
"I think it will," he said.
The paramedic also recommended residents use the Alberta health link's 811 phone number to request a COVID test or find resources to help during the pandemic.
By the numbers
The number of Albertans receiving COVID-19 tests has increased significantly in recent months. As of the province's most recent stats, 514,000 Albertans have been tested for the virus since April. In that time, the percentage of positive outcomes spiked to eight per cent at the end of April. Positive test results currently sit at around two percent. The 514,000 included 42,000 from the province's 'north zone' including Fort McMurray and Lac La Biche. On average, according to the provincial government's statistics, more than 8,000 people a day in the province are being tested for the virus.
The province's interactive COVID map has been showing active and recovered cases of the respiratory virus in each of Alberta's municipalities since it was first uploaded to the Alberta COVID-19 website on March 13. In the 130 days since, the Lac La Biche area — broken down into areas identifying the hamlet of Lac La Biche, the hamlet of Plamondon and the surrounding Lac La Biche County — was bordered by outbreaks in the Fort McMurray region, Bonnyville and St. Paul. A case reported last week in Boyle was the first in that community,. This week the MD of Bonnyville is currently reporting two active cases, and the Fort McMurray area has four active cases.
There have been 461 confirmed cases of the virus in the province's north zone since the pandemic began. There are currently 86 active cases in the north zone.
We will have more details as they become available.